Fragile Vessels

I hope I was as offensive as I meant to be in my response to the microaggressions survey I got at work.

Among the endless litany of microaggressions listed in the survey, my favorite is “Have you observed or experienced a professor turning the heater in their office up or down to make it uncomfortable for underrepresented professors who come to speak to them in their office.”

We don’t control heaters in our offices or anywhere. As a result, we often end up stewing in our offices or classrooms when it’s 75C outside and the heater is on full blast. I had to let students go early last week because it was so hot and stuffy in our windowless basement classroom that it was getting unsafe.

But even if we did control our heaters. People do have different temperature preferences. What kind of a sick bugger assumes that colleagues choose a different office temperature out of racism and not out of a normal human preference?

The questions on the survey produce an impression that the only correct way to treat “underrepresented faculty” is as if they were precious, fragile vessels that need to be approached with extreme care. You can’t treat them as intellectual equals or fully capable adults who are in control of their emotional responses.

The length of the questionnaire, the lack of a definition for the word “underrepresented,” and the outlandishly trivial nature of proposed offenses ensure everybody’s culpability. There is no way of proving whether, as you talk with a shivering colleague in a frigid office, you are thinking, “this is a great idea, I should ask him if he wants to work on a proposal together” or “serves you right, you underrepresented person, I wish we had more people from Norway instead of your undesirable ass.” Neither can I know if the underrepresented colleague is thinking “all women are dumb bitches and I hope she freezes to death” or “this is a great idea, I should ask her if she wants to work on a proposal together.” If I automatically assume it’s the former, all this means is that I’m a paranoid idiot.

5 thoughts on “Fragile Vessels”

  1. Did you point out that being unable to control the thermostat is a microaggression against professors and students by the administration? Especially impoverished people & women who cannot afford to tote an entire wardrobe on campus for extreme temperature changes?

    Turn the stupid survey on people.

    “The way you are framing this question makes me feel attacked as an underrepresented professor.”

    Did they have a question about furniture choices? Because you can definitely use that to make some power moves and to make people feel uncomfortable. What about an art selection?

    Just imagine the fun reality show called Fight the Furniture: How to Use Interior Design to Make Friends & Discomfit Frenemies.


    1. Or hey, how about exhibiting diplomas from fancy schools? I was told off yesterday about wearing a T-shirt from Yale that I had put on without even thinking about it.


    1. Here’s even more proof that I’m not a woman because I’d go nuts at 75F. The perfect working temperature for me is 67F.

      75F is the temperature for very skinny, very young women from just a handful of cultures. This study doesn’t take intothe account racial or the ethnic element, the fact that many people are overweight, health status, etc. So my conclusion is: this article is racist, fat-shaming and ableist.


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